These photos are from the first cesarean birth I was allowed to document. However, it was not my first time to attend a birth ending in a cesarean. I sometimes have to give a quick camera tutorial and then leave it to Dad or a nurse to capture those precious moments for me to tie into the birth story. The reasons why I am not allowed to accompany the parents into the OR are not usually clear: “Hospital policy,” “sterile environment,” and “safety of the patient” are some examples of what I’ve been told.
This time, however, was different! I have earned the trust of this particular OB, and he pulled some serious strings for me so that I would be allowed back into the OR to document Sterling and Dusty’s baby girl’s entrance into the world.
This was such an incredible moment for us all. Why?
- All birth stories are worth documenting and preserving. Not just vaginal births. This is especially important to a cesarean birth mama once she realizes she can’t see anything that’s happening as her baby is delivered. Neither can Dad if he’s comforting her.
- Birth photography helps the mother see the big picture. It details every stage of birth – labor, delivery and post partum. But without the visual reference, cesarean birth mamas are often stuck on that moment they lost the opportunity to have a vaginal birth. It can be depressing and preventative of them enjoying the outcome of their healthy baby. Because “things didn’t go as planned.”
- Birth – all birth – is beautiful. Moms often tell me during our consultations that they aren’t very “pretty” during labor. Or that they’re worried about bloody pictures. And ugly expressions. And the sterile environment of a hospital or OR. Their cluttered house. Losing control of their emotions. The list goes on. Bottom line is – that’s not what birth is about! Yes birth is as real as you can get… Mama’s beads of sweat, furrowed brow, clenched fists, fighter-like expression, vulnerability, even the moment she is actually birthing her baby (whether vaginally or by cesarean) are all raw, real, but BEAUTIFUL and MIRACULOUS moments. As for the difference between a vaginal birth and a cesarean birth, the anticipation and emotion you feel about meeting your baby for the first time is all the same.
- Seeing the beauty in a cesarean birth image is encouraging because cesarean moms often feel like their birth experience has been diminished, reduced, or voided out due to often unavoidable circumstances.
There are a few reasons why I choose to honor cesarean moms. To help them see that their birth is picture-worthy. Amongst all the images of peaceful water births and mothers catching their own babies and bringing them immediately to their chest, I can see why they feel otherwise. But this birth story also says “this is birth,’” “this too is beautiful,” “this too is a miracle.”
Sterling and Dusty were strong and committed to doing what was best for their daughter. And their OB made their birth experience better by delivering Sawyer in a slow and calm manner. So that it felt more like a vaginal birth.
Here is what Sterling has to say about her experience. It sums up perfectly the emotions that nearly every mama in this situation goes through:
“Throughout my pregnancy, the one thing I was both terrified of and adamant about not wanting was a cesarean. When I found out that my body wasn’t doing what was necessary to bring our baby into this world, I was heartbroken. I felt like my body itself was broken, that it wasn’t doing something that should come naturally and just happen. And when we found out her heart rate was low, I felt like my body was failing her, too. My fear was becoming my reality. Luckily, though, we’d decided to hire someone to photograph our daughter coming into the world. We were also lucky enough to have a physician who understands and values birth photography, allowing our photographer to come into the operating room to document such an important moment in our lives.
These aren’t typical birth photos. Seeing these pictures, seeing our daughter take her first breath in a situation in which I normally wouldn’t have, however, showed me that my body didn’t fail. I grew and nourished this beautiful little girl who has blessed our lives in ways we didn’t even realize were possible.
I hope these photos are shared and embraced for all of us mothers who didn’t get the ‘ideal’ birth, who thought that our bodies were broken, who didn’t get to see our child take his or her first breath. Thank you, Leilani. Thank you for showing me the beauty of a cesarean.”
My heart is full knowing that birth photography serves so many purposes! It’s not only beautiful and intriguing, but in some cases, healing as well. Mothers see their pictures and are better able to process their births. These images reassure moms that they did indeed “give birth.” The disconnect they might feel during the cesarean itself is made better by the happy moments captured and preserved, forever.